The 2019 World Cup is expected to be the highest scoring one ever. England are widely tipped to finally win a 50-over major tournament. Batsmen are expected to reduce bowlers to glorified bowling machines and 300-plus totals could well be par scores.
On paper, hosts England, India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are seen as strong contenders with the rest of the teams not too far behind.
But while the focus is on teams, players and the flatness of wickets in England, one major aspect that is not getting as much attention is the format.
This World Cup, 10 teams play each other and the top four qualify straight to the semi-finals. No groups, no quarter-finals. Just like it was in the 1992 World Cup. And that alters the scenario drastically.
Generally, consistency is important in a World tournament but this edition of the 50-over showpiece event will have more emphasis on peaking at the right time.
Sure, the team that wins six or seven of the nine league matches will be in good shape heading into the knockouts but equally importantly, the format allows at least one team to sneak into the last four and then have two great days to lift the title.
The 1992 World Cup is a perfect example of it. There, Pakistan had just one win from their first five matches. A washout against England after being bowled out for 74 was a massive slice of luck as a result would have affected their net run rate dramatically.
As luck would have it, Imran Khan rallied his troops when all seemed lost and the men in green got their act together during the most important stretch – winning five matches in a row to win the World Cup.
The format allowed Pakistan to have a poor first half and win right at the end to taste glory.
Also, having semi-finals instead of an IPL style knockouts that allow the top two teams two opportunities to make it to the final as a reward for their consistency means in the 2019 World Cup, there is the possibility of a team stitching together wins right towards the end of June, maybe benefiting from some rain-affected games and Duckworth Lewis calculations, and finding itself on the brink of World Cup glory.
What’s more, even if a team wins nine out nine league games, one defeat in the semi-final will mean end of its campaign while another team with, say, five wins from nine matches can have two good days and be crowned ‘world champions’.
It’s not the best format as it does not reward consistency, nor are there enough teams in the fray; there are no Associate teams nor Ireland – a Test nation. But it is what it is and be ready for a surprise winner, as was the case in 1992.
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